UN blue helmets needed in Israel, Palestine

The death of American peace activist, Rachel Corrie, run over by an Israeli army bulldozer Mar. 16 as she attempted to stop the destruction of a Palestinian home in Gaza, has become a symbol of the struggle for a just Israeli-Palestinian peace.

In putting her life on the line, she challenged the world community to intervene on the side of the majority of Israelis and Palestinians who favor peace based on “two states for two peoples.”

The intervention force must be seen as fair, impartial, with the authority of the world community. Only the United Nations fits the bill. The Palestinians have long advocated bringing in UN monitors or a team of UN peacekeepers. A UN Human Rights rapporteur delivered a report on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis last year stating: “The need for an international presence either in the form of monitors or of peacekeepers is surely imperative to reduce violence, restore respect for human rights and create conditions in which negotiations can be resumed.” A UN force would bring new life to UN Security Council Resolutions 181, 194 and 242, which call for Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, recognition of Israel and the creation of a Palestinian state.

The World Council of Churches recently stated, “The time has come for international peacekeepers in Israel and Palestine. … Conditions in the occupied Palestinian territories have worsened to desperate levels.” Amnesty International “strongly supports” the deployment of an “independent, impartial team of expert monitors” to stop the bloodshed and restart the negotiations. The idea is also supported by the overwhelming majority of UN member-states, including the Arab states. What, then, is the obstacle to this timely, urgent proposal? The right-wing Israeli government and the Bush administration who want to force an unequal peace on the Palestinians. Take that path and the vaunted “road map” will lead to another dead end. The key is involving the UN, starting with a force of “blue helmets.”

* * * * * *

Another blow to civil liberties

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ran rough-shod over the First Amendment when it ruled that the Justice Department has a legal right to withhold the names of nearly 1,200 people – nearly all of them Muslims – who were detained on various charges in the days following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The decision went even further, upholding the Justice Department’s right to with hold the names of plaintiffs’ attorneys and the locations where the detainees are held.

In language that has become the hallmark of high-ranking White House officials, Attorney General John Ashcroft claimed – and the Court agreed in a decision written by Judge David Sentelle – that secrecy is necessary out of deference to national security.

In a stinging dissent, Judge Davi Tatel said the majority of the court was just agreeing with what he called the Bush administration’s demand to “trust us.”

The ruling, which came within days of an internal report by the Justice Department documenting the wholesale denial of the rights of detainees, is further evidence of a frontal attack on constitutional liberties by the Bush administration.

Worse yet, this decision is the latest surrender by the courts to that attack. Recent decisions have upheld the right of the Immigration and Naturalization Service to conduct immigration hearings in secret, and have denied detainees at the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp the protections of the Constitution.

The protections of the First Amendment are not limited to individual rights – to freedom of speech, the right to assemble or to join unions. It also is a guarantee of transparency – that people have a right to know what government is doing. As Judge Daman Smith wrote in another case dealing with the right to know: “Democracy dies in the dark.”

Martin Dooley, the cracker-barrel philosopher, once said the Supreme Court reads the election returns. That’s one more reason to defeat George Bush in Nov. 3, 2004.